Friday, 31 October 2008

Review of Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths by Timothy Butler

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The Author Dr. Timothy Butler is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School.

This book is ideal for all those facing psychological impasse due to personal and professional reasons. This book promises to help you how to recognise the state of psychological impasse and use it as a springboard to real change. The book has been arranged in 3 parts viz., Impasse, Vision and Getting Unstuck. The author contends that impasse is a necessary crisis in everybody’s life to change and grow (I whole heartedly endorse this view based on personal experience). A path breaking definition for Vision has been given in the book. Fig 1.2 which explains the cycle of impasse and vision is a must display on the desktop of all those beyond the mid 30s.

We are all self critics and possibly very good at it. The author has borrowed the concept of “The Accuser” by William Blake, the English Poet to drive home this point (P.I Ch.2). He has given a practical threefold strategy to deal with this problem. The definition of free attention (P.I Ch.3) and the exercise prescribed for it is worth emulating. The One Hundred Jobs Exercise (P.I Ch.4) takes your thinking to new frontiers.

The author starts Part II (Vision) with a theme called “Pattern in the carpet”. Certain recurring themes signal what is vital for us. From these themes we can discern the type of activities, work environments and close relationships that make our lives most satisfying. In the chapter Our Deepest Interests (P.II, Ch. V) he has talked about the Ten Basic Interest and also an exercise to identify an interest or two close to your heart. You don’t have to read the entire book; this one chapter should bring a radical change in the way your life is progressing. Grab this book from anyone who has it just to read this section. In the next chapter he has talked about what to do with weakness? In the subsequent chapter he identifies the central role that the three social needs power, people and achievement play in our life decisions. In the next chapter “Mapping our insights” he has given an exercise how to map our insights

The next Part is Getting Unstuck (Part 3). This is the final step in the cycle of impasse and is about integrating what we have learned so that we can make a decision and take action. He has talked about exploring the poles i.e. we need to go to each pole of tension (read individual areas of interest) and simply focus there intently. He also talks about the methods to implement the images gathered from the poles of tension. The final chapter is “Living at the Border” wherein he talks about how to identify an impasse. The only way according to the author to avoid an impasse is to live completely openly because then we would face each moment without any evasions, excuses or attachments to old habits.

This book is a must read for all those who want to break free in life and explore their true self.

Where are the ladies seat in BMTC buses, RTI query by me

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Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Economist Style Guide: 9th Edition

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Utility: for anybody who wants to write English in a simple and an effective way.

Objective: The book aims to warn writers of some common mistakes and encourages them to write with clarity and simplicity. The recommendations are derived from the style used each week in writing and editing The Economist.

Arrangement: The Book is divided into 3 parts viz., The essence of style; American and British English and Useful Reference.

Part 1 – Essence of Style (a few eye-catchers represented below)

1. Avoid Metaphors, oratorical flourishes and foreign phrases (esp. Latin they are outdated)

2. Cut out unnecessary words (a separate chapter has been dedicated for this)

3. Avoid using phrases like surprise, surprise; guess what in the middle of a sentence.

4. Avoid beginning too many of your sentences with words like compare, expect, imagine, etc; readers will think they are reading a text book.

5. Avoid using terms like affordable housing (by whom?), these are advertising language.

6. Avoid euphemisms and circumlocutions used by interest group. Mobility impairment means wheel chair bound and underprivileged means poor people.

7. Don’t compare a fraction with a decimal. Eg:- don’t say inflation fell from 12.5% to 12 ¼ %.

8. Use active voice as much as possible

9. Avoid the use of former and later, more often than not it causes confusion.

10. A government, a party and a company always take a singular verb.

11. Countries take a singular verb, even if their names look plural. Eg:- The Philippines has its own Constitution.

12. The section on hyphens is very interesting.

13. Avoid Jargons; words and expressions that are ugly or overused [bottom line, major (unless something nearby is minor)]

14. Pristine means original or former; it does not mean clean.

15. A ship is feminine

16. Same is superfluous. If your sentence contains on the same day that, try on the day that.

17. The section on spelling is educative.

18. Avoid the habit of joining office and name like Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh

19. Avoid use of words like very because they add nothing but length to your prose. No need to say most probably and most especially, it is enough if you say probably and especially. There is no meaning for the word pre-prepared.

20. Which informs, that defines.

Part 2 – American and British English

I did not find it much useful and hence did not take the trouble of reading through it.

Part 3 – Useful Reference

This is a treasure house of information. This parts contains a list of abbreviations, business ratios, calendars, currencies, internet abbreviations, Latin terms, essentials of proofreading.

Had I found this book a decade ago, my writing would have been more refined but it is never too late to make a start. Only complain I have about this book it does not contain an exercise section or a CD wherein we could have refined our skills. That apart, this book is a must for all those who want to improve their written English. An online version of this book is available on The Economist website.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Simpleology: The Simple Science of Getting What You Want by Mark Joyner

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More than calling it as a review, I would like to call it as a summary of the book by a student.


Self Development/ Self- Actualization. Ideal book for those who like to get their work done in a simple way.


Mark Joyner who has previously authored books such as The Irresistible Offer and The Great Formula.


It is ideal for a book of its genre 240 plus pages.


Very interestingly done in the form of text boxes and meaningful cartoons.


Simple, hardly requires a dictionary while you read the book. Each paragraph does not contain more than 3 or 4 sentences making it interesting and easy to read.

Arrangement of the Book

The book has been divided into Four Books (Parts)

Book I – The Asylum – deals with why you are stuck where are you are now

Book II – The Invisible Walls – shows how to see and then tear down these invisible walls.

Book III - Disposable Reality – A new operating system for the brain – shows you how to reconstruct disposable walls at will in order to serve your purposes.

Book IV – The simple science of getting what you want.

Concepts which were beyond my understanding

Book II –

Chapter 11 – Runaway Brainware

Chapter 12 - Neural Networking

Book III

Chapter 1 – Logic

Chapter 2 – Science (Again)

Concepts which I don’t agree with

Book III – Chapter III – Influence – at the end the author says that the ultimate method to protect yourself from influence is through skepticism and not allowing rapport to influence your thinking.

Since I have lost in my life whenever I have been skeptic I am not in agreement with this concept.

Concepts which I consider as Lessons of Life

Book II

Chapter 7 – Pseudoscience – Stupidity Training mentioned in a sleek text box wherein he has mentioned that a conversation between a true believer and a true skeptic isn’t much of a conversation. It’s not an exploration of ideas, but a chest pounding shouting match. The author has observed that most of the news debates are of this genre.

Chapter 9 – Focus – Jakow Trachtenberg a mathematician was sent to a concentration camp in Austria during 1938. To take his mind off the imprisonment, he focused his attention inward and played with mathematics in his head. He left the camp after seven years with relatively less psychological scarring and came up with the system of “Speed Math” widely known as the Trachtenberg system. If we could focus on our core competencies in times of an emotional upheaval, how relieved we could be if not come up with path breaking concepts?

Book 4 – Simple.ology

Already listed in lessons of life

The author correctly says that we need to be simple in purpose, method and execution. An inexperienced programmer would write hundreds of lines of code whereas an experienced one would require a couple of lines of code.

Chapter 1 – The First Law – The Law of Straight Lines – Go from Bangalore to Delhi by the shortest route not via Ahmedabad.

The author has illustrated the act of drinking water through the direct method of sipping or just keep it in a glass and start praying “All the forces of nature manifest the water in my mouth”

Chapter 2 – The Law of Clear Vision – You cannot shoot a target which you cannot see clearly

Chapter 3 – The Law of focused attention – focus on the target till you hit it; we focus on what we don’t want, we focus on the wrong target and we focus on diversion like television and entertainment

Chapter 4 – The Law of focused energy

The author has given a very good example of the futility in stabbing a cardboard box with a spoon compared to the easiness of stabbing it with a knife.

Chapter 5 – The inescapability of action/reaction.

Interesting concepts presented in the book

Definition of Insanity in Book I

Definition of Scientist in Book I Chapter 2 (Science)

Book I – Chapter 3 – Influence

Argumentum ad homeim – Its Latin for arguing against the man. All of us do this day in and day out. This logic is valid but has an impact on the listener.

Definition of double bind and the way it has been illustrated is deft.

He has quipped that sanity has little do with how intelligent you are but is more based on a useful understanding of the world.

A mention relevant to India is that language has been used to start wars, riots and all sort of mayhem.

Book II – The Invisible Walls

Definition of what comprises our model of the world in Chapter I (Book II – The Invisible Walls) is definite to strike a chord with most readers. The author has mentioned our model of the world is comprised of not only of what we see, but also of what we hear, feel and think. He has very cleverly used the conversation between two guys in a pub to illustrate the meaning.

The author has brought out the limitations of human memory by using the concept of Magic Number 7 by University of Princeton Psychologist George Miller.

Chapter 2

The author has hilariously used the concept of a bartender who has a belief that “all Arabs are terrorists” and how he beats up an Arab, who actually was asking way to the nearest hospital to take his wife who is in labour pain.

Meanings of jargons such as cognitive dissonance, group think have been brought out in the simplest manner possible.

Chapter 3

The author has enlisted Robert Cialdin’s six distinct weapons of influence viz., reciprocation; commitment and consistency; social proof; liking; authority; and scarcity. A detailed description of 10 simple steps to persuade anyone by Dr. Kevin Hogan has also been given.

Chapter 4

The concept of presupposition and its inherent dangers has been well brought out. The author has also given an illustration how a deft communicator should handle it.

Chapter 5 – Name Calling

Most favorite name calling across the globe “you are either going to agree with me or you are not a patriot”

Write a blog on Secularism, you will find out what it means.

His statements that Labels are by definition inherently wrong impressed me a lot

Chapter 6 – Faulty Thinking

The tools of faulty thinking according to the book are appeal to ignorance (you can’t prove non-existence of God; so he does exist); appeal to authority (so and so said it); Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: after this therefore because of this); and appeal to emotion.

Chapter 7 – Pseudoscience

This talks about how products of faith are sold under the garb of science. Placebo Effect (where cure is dependent on the user’s faith) and Nocebo Effect (non-cure is due to the non-existence of faith of the user)

Chapter 8 – Disinformation

This chapter is very interesting. It lists the 25 rules of disinformation and 8 traits of a disinformationalist.

Chapter 9 - Focus

Already I have listed it in under “Lessons of Life”

Chapter 10 – Trances

Watching TV is also considered as a hypnotic trance by the Author and this concept is bound to get a nod from all those who read it. The author also rightly says that all of us are under one form of trance or another in every walking moment.

Chapter 11 and 12 – listed in concepts beyond my intelligence

Book III

Disposable Reality

The author lists The Utilitarian Model Flexibility (UMF) as the way to lead life. According to this we change our model of the world in ways that serve whatever your given aims are.

Eg: - You cannot predict the movement of “quantum particles” with Newton’s Law of Motion and Gravity.

Chapter-1 Logic and Chapter-2 Science (again) – I have listed them under concepts beyond my understanding

Chapter 3 - E-Prime (English Prime)

Every blogger would love this chapter.

Dr. Korzybski felt that much of the problem was our inadequate and unhealthy use of the verb to be. E-Prime was an invention of Dr David Bourland. Kenneth Keyes Jr proposed a more practical way also known as The 6 Tools for Thinking. He proposed use of the following terms:

1. So far as I know – instead of saying he is a liar you could say so far as I know he is a liar.

2. Up to a point – You could further refine the above sentence by saying “So far as I know, he is a liar, up to a point”.

3. To me – To me, he is a liar.

4. The What Index – Instead of saying “He is a pig” you can say “When it comes to a party, he is a pig”

5. The When Index – you could further refine the statement “During 2005, he was a pig in the parties”

6. The Where Index – “In 2005 whenever I saw him in a party, he behaved like a pig”

Now only if our politicians and news journalists could learn E-prime

Chapter 4 – Polya

In this chapter, the author has recommended G. Polya’s 4 Step Problem Solving Method viz., Understanding the problem (whether it is a problem at all?); Devising a plan (think of a familiar method of solving the problem) ; Carrying out the plan (check each step); and Looking Back (could you have solved through an alternate method)

Chapter 5 – Rules for UMF

This chapter lists the rules for implementing Utilitarian Model Flexibility (UMF):

1. Thoughts are not things, they are models

2. We have the ability to choose our models (you don’t have to focus on unhappy x but on happy Y)

3. These models can be used as tools (either for you or against you)

4. Utility is the measure of a tools value.

5. Utility is not the same thing as truth (I can think I am handsome which maybe useful to me but that may not be the truth )

6. No model is absolute

7. No two people share the same model

8. Models are not mutually exclusive

9. Models do not have to be accepted in whole

Book 4 – Simple.ology

Already listed in lessons of life

I consider this book as a must read. It would be great if you could buy it because the concepts explained in this book are relevant across ages. If books are an individual’s best friend, this book is both a friend and philosopher.

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